Nothing says ‘fuck anti-abortion laws’ quite like Juliana Notari’s giant vulva sculpture.
Just weeks into 2021 and the award for most controversial public sculpture may already have a winner. Installed days after Brazil’s far-right President Bolsonaro vowed to never legalise abortion, the colossal 33-metre high concrete and resin crimson vulva has caused heated cultural debate online.
Set proudly into the rolling hills of a former sugar-mill-turned-sculpture-park in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Brazilian artist Notari conceptualised Diva in light of her country’s relentless censorship and backwards policing of women’s bodies. 11 months in the making and measuring 16 metres wide and 6 metres deep, the work was engineered by Roberto Gatis and constructed by the hands of 20 crew members.
In a Facebook post, Notari states that the artwork intends to question the ‘problematisation of gender’ and to challenge the human relationships that create an ‘unequal and catastrophic world’. Honestly, is there anything a vulva can’t do?
Notari adds that these issues are ‘increasingly urgent’, which couldn’t be more true. At the end of last year, following Argentina’s decision to legalise abortion, Bolsonaro expressed his unsolicited sympathies via Twitter for the lives of Argentine children ‘now subject to being cut in their mothers’ wombs with state consent’, then vowing to never approve abortion in Brazil. Perhaps this response could be a new dictionary example for the term ‘misguided empathy’?
The obscene Tweets didn’t stop there, with Bolsonaro’s mate and right-wing Brazilian polemicist Olavo Carvalho asking, ‘Why are they talking bad about the 33-metre pussy instead of facing it with a dick?’ I’m not sure if you could miss the point any further. What I am sure of, though, is that men like this should cease to exist, effective immediately.
Unsurprisingly, self-proclaimed ‘critics’ of the general public also had a lot to say about Diva, most of which denounced the work as ‘leftist propaganda’, ‘a disgusting eyesore’ and ‘reprehensible’. One man commented on Notari’s post: ‘With all due respect, I did not like it. Imagine me walking with my young daughters in this park and them asking… “Daddy, what is this?” What will I answer?’ In response, a female poster wrote back, ‘With all due respect, you can teach your daughters not to be ashamed of their own genitals.’ Touché.
But for Notari, this work is more than just a vulva. Diva is an important extension of the artist’s practice that explores the idea of wounds through site-specific locations. On this sculpture specifically, the artist explains how it not only explores themes of women’s rights, but also opens up the history of human rights embedded in the hillside: ‘This wound is, however, infinitely smaller when compared to the traumas of slavery, unprotected employment, ecocide, and violent traumas that happened in this Usina [region], as in other private colonial properties.’
In praise of Diva, London’s Vagina Museum wrote, ‘We adore Juliana Notari’s Diva sculpture, and send her solidarity and love for all the hate she’s received from the far right.’
Shaista Aziz, the head of media and communications at Solace Women’s Aid, said, ‘I love everything about Juliana Notari’s sculpture, Diva and this story. It speaks to the absolute misogyny and fragility of the global far-right and all the extremists obsessed with curtailing women’s human, political, sexual, and economic rights.’